BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, delayed a decision on Wednesday on whether farmers may grow more genetically modified crops, saying further scientific analysis was needed before approval could be given.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will be asked for more assessment of the risk of growing two GM maize crops, and a potato modified to produce extra starch. That move is likely to put off EU approval of the crops for several months.
EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, one of the 27-strong Commission’s most GMO-wary members, had wanted to reject the two maize applications, pitting himself against many Commission colleagues more favorable towards biotechnology. He has also delayed deciding on the potato for nearly a year.
“The Commission will adopt the pending decision if and when EFSA confirms the safety of these products,” Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger told a news conference, referring specifically to the two modified maize types.
One type has been engineered by Swiss agrochemicals company Syngenta. The other was developed jointly by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a unit of DuPont Co, and Dow AgroSciences unit Mycogen Seeds.
The potato, known as Amflora, is made by German chemicals company BASF and designed to produce high amounts of starch for use in industrial processing but whose by-products can also be used within animal feed.
The EU has not approved any GM crops for growing since 1998.
In return for sending the three applications back to the scientists, Dimas will sign an order for Austria to lift its ban on import and processing of two GM maizes -- although cultivation will continue to be prohibited.
“The Commission today adopted two decisions requesting Austria to lift its ban on the import of two GM maizes,” Laitenberger said. Those products are MON 810 maize made by U.S. biotech company Monsanto, and T25 maize developed by German drugs and chemicals group Bayer.
Austria is the only remaining EU country cited in a World Trade Organisation case filed against the Commission by Argentina, Canada and the United States -- the world’s top three GM crop growers -- where national bans on specific GMO products are still in effect.
“The Commission has furthermore instructed its services to find a technical solution for the issue of low-level presence of non-approved GMOs in food and feedstuffs as quickly as possible and at the latest before the summer,” Laitenberger said.
For months, the Commission had been due to debate the issue in a bid to end a policy vacuum and also show its major trading partners like the United States, the world’s top biotech crop grower, that Europe is in the market for GMOs.
Europe has long been split on biotech policy and the EU’s 27 countries regularly clash over whether to approve new, finished GM varieties for import. The Commission usually ends up issuing a rubberstamp approval, which it may do under EU law.
Reporting by Jeremy Smith; Editing by Dale Hudson